“An eye for an eye makes everyone blind”. These words of Mahatma Gandhi have never rung more true. Tuesday, 11th September was a day of unprecedented tragedy and condemnation of the terror attacks on New York and Washington are still reverberating around the world, with universal agreement that those responsible must be brought to justice.
But how? Surely not by the obscene and escalating military action now being undertaken by the U.S. government and slavishly supported by Tony Blair. Terrorist attack has been answered by terrorist attack and, as is always the case, it is not the perpetrators of terrorism who suffer, but the millions of innocent people, whose lives are already blighted by hunger, poverty and violence.
The pitiless bombing of Afghanistan is being intensified. From so-called targeted, limited, strategic attacks there is now extensive heavy bombing with the use of the deadly depleted uranium and cluster bombs. We have seen the results of the inevitable “mistakes” on our TV screens and in the newspapers; we cannot begin to imagine the trauma of the victims and the difficulties of medical care when as the bombers proudly boast, communication, electricity and water supplies are non existent in some areas.
Day by day it becomes clearer that this brutal retaliation is not going to solve the problem. Increasing numbers of M.P.s, trade union leaders, clergy, U.N. personnel speaking out against the war; the huge attendance at the Oct. 13 Rally and the growing support for local and national vigils and demonstrations are all evidence of the disquiet felt at the actions of the U.S. and British Governments.
These governments must be made to understand that military action is not the answer to terrorism. Instead it will exacerbate it; hatred of the West will grow and revenge attacks will become the order of the day. It is not difficult to foresee a situation where for every mutilated child and bereaved family a thousand bin Ladens could be spawned.
It is not just the humanitarian consequences of this war, horrific as these are, that give cause for grave concern. There is the very real danger of a third world war which could engulf us all. One step towards avoiding such a catastrophe would be the immediate recall of the United Nations Assembly, which should then set in motion an investigation, followed by the necessary action, into the causes of terrorism. Action which must include a just peace in the Middle East and an end to the desperate poverty that afflicts so many people in the world and which, because of globalisation, is getting worse.
It must be the U.N. which takes action and not the U.S.A., which has itself been guilty of financing and supporting terrorists in many parts of the world. The U.S. government has a long and shameful record of state terror. Iraq is still being bombed on a regular basis and children are dying at the rate of 5000 a month as a direct result of bombing and sanctions; Yugoslavia was “bombed back into the Stone Age”, as one American general put it; Vietnam still suffers from the poisoning of its crops by Agent Orange, used by the Americans in the war; Palestinians are being killed and dispossessed by the Israeli government, which in turn is armed and supported by the U.S. government. Then there is the infamous School of the Americas, which trains “counter insurgency” forces to torture, maim and kill people in Central and South America. It is small wonder that there is so much hatred in the world for the U.S.A.
Pressure must be brought to bear on our government to ensure that this hatred does not grow and result in even more tragedy. It can be done. We need the conviction, as a letter in The Globe, Boston, U.S.A., put it,
“....to exercise our faith in each other and our belief in our ability to find a way to live together. The answer to this challenge cannot be written in blood and bombs, but must be expressed in our willingness to sacrifice and work in the defence of our faith in humanity.”
This group was set up as an interim peace movement network after the National Peace Council was wound down and has immediately come into its own in the present crisis, meeting weekly in London since September 11th. Contact David Gee of Quaker Peace and Social Witness on email@example.com if you would like your e-mail address added to a temporary list that Network for Peace is using to co-ordinate activities during the crisis, or if you want information on the next meeting.
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That was the message on my tabard, while Ann’s read ‘Witness for Peace’. It was Friday evening, less than a week after the bombardment of Afghanistan had begun. Some 15 of us from WDC/CND, UNA and the Quakers were holding a candle-lit vigil in St. Mark’s Place, Wimbledon. The young man stopped, read our posters, placards and then the tabards.
“Are you all Quakers?” he asked.
“No,” I laughed.
He saw the placard which read ‘Silent vigil for peace’. “Do you mind if I talk with you for a minute?”
“Not at all. Let’s just move away a little from the others.”
“What do you do about evil?”
“What kind of evil?”
“The kind we saw in New York and Washington on the 11th September.”
“I’d begin by asking what drove those people to do what they did.”
“They were terrorists. You can’t have a dialogue with terrorists.”
“Why not? We seem to be able to do so in Northern Ireland.”
“But these are people who would never accept that what they had done was wrong.”
“We don’t know what they would accept until we ask them. It seems to me that we’re making a lot of statements about them and their motives without taking the time to listen to what they might have to say. In fact, one of the things we seem to have lost in this day and age is the willingness, perhaps even the ability, to listen to another’s point of view.”
“You don’t support war, but if you’re attacked, then surely you’re entitled to fight back?”
“I don’t think violence can be overcome by using violence oneself.”
“But there have to be times when the use of force is right and necessary. If you saw someone abusing a child, wouldn’t you try to prevent them?”
“Indeed I would. But it’s one thing to use forceful restraint, and quite another to react violently. Does dropping bombs on Afghanistan really help to overcome terrorism?”
“I don’t suppose so....” A pause.
“I’ve read a bit about the Quakers and their founder, George Fox. You believe there’s something of God in everyone, don’t you. Does that include terrorists?”
“Yes, and freedom fighters.” Another pause.
“We don’t hear much from the anti-war lobby in public and certainly not in the media.”
“Not yet, but if more people come and stand with us, and are prepared to speak out against this war, not only here in this cul-de-sac but wherever the subject comes up, then the government might begin to take a bit of notice. After all, isn’t this the democracy they keep going on about?”
“Yes, you’re right.”
We shook hands. He departed. The vigil continued.
Please publicise and support our meeting on Tuesday November 13th when we have a visiting speaker from the Campaign Against the Arms Trade. This speaker was booked before the terrible events of September 11th but of course the fact that we are now in the middle of a war makes it more relevant than ever to consider the implications of Britain’s part in exporting sophisticated weaponry world-wide. We have been reminded in recent weeks that the troops of Osama bin Laden were formerly supported by the CIA.
We have two issues here: the moral argument over whether it is ethical for a responsible country to export weapons of destruction to impoverished nations, many of which are dictatorships, and the purely pragmatic question of whether it is of benefit to our own security to aid the buildup of arms in highly unstable regions of the world.
There will be plenty of opportunity for discussion and it should be an interesting and informative evening. Please come.
This was the biggest mass demonstration the peace movement has seen for years — perhaps since the 1980s. The press and television were quoting the police estimate of 20,000, but anyone who was actually present must feel that this was a serious underestimate.
The rally was a wonderfully diverse mixture of all ages and races, including a very large number of young people. Several of the people I spoke to had come up to London spontaneously, having heard the news of the demonstration on radio and TV only that morning.
CND is to be complimented on seizing the moment and altering its longstanding plans for a demonstration aganst Star Wars outside the US embassy. This involved some quick thinking and liaison with the Palestinian and Muslim communities who had also originally planned independent action. The result was a triumphant example of the virtues and rewards of co-operation. (We could do with some more of this at international level!)